All posts by brandon adamson

Alpha Cat – Mockingbird

Alpha-Cat-Mockingbird

Released on Aquamarine Records, Mockingbird is a single from Alpha Cat (the professional moniker of longtime indie icon Elizabeth McCullough). The song is from Alpha Cat’s current album, Thatched Roof Glass House and features a host of well- known, seasoned musicians with impressive credits. Just to give you an idea, it was recorded with the assistance of Fred Smith (Blondie and the band Television), guitarist Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, John Mayer), Reggie McBride (Elton John) and Chris Butler (The Waitresses) on bass, Jason Harrison Smith (Albert Lee, Kelly Sweet, Ian Andersen), co-producer Jon Mattox and it was mastered by Brett (Cosmo) Thorngren.

Described as a “dreamy ode to individuality” Mockingbird has an organic and ethereal sound, with elements of indie folk and alternative. It’s refreshing to see such musical craftsmanship in an indie song. It’s like if you were to give a musical project “major label” level talent and excellent production values, and the track somehow managed to retain its sincere, artistic essence (while also sounding good). Bright vocals and sparkly, note bending guitars carry much of the action, but the drums are notable for their natural sound, a rarity in the age of heavily (over)processed backing beats. The singing on here is way more advanced than what one expects for this type of music. I mean, really just stellar vocals. There’s emotional depth, there’s passion, there’s sensitivity, etc. Don’t try this at home kids. Dealing with the subject of individuality and celebrating “being yourself,” Mockingbird presents these ideals in an empowering fashion, utilizing poetic and nature metaphors. These messages and motifs radiate beautifully throughout this recording, which aboves all bears the fruits of of artistic perseverance.

elizabeth

For more info:

https://soundcloud.com/alphacatny/mockingbird
https://www.facebook.com/alphacatband/

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Menes Rebazzar Kedar – Quantum Helix: Fractal Galaxy

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Quantum Helix: Fractal Galaxy is a new album from New York based, artist, Menes Rebazzar Kedar. This multi-dimensional musical odyssey transcends traditional categorization, blending hip hop, soul, blues, electronic dance music and rock. The beats are often fast paced and futuristic, like something out of the Terminator, while Kedar’s vocals are dynamic and soulful. Some tracks like Ya Never Know give off a surprisingly groovy rock and roll vibe. Most of the songs have a high octane and spirited youthful energy, contrasted with a mellow intro or mid-track interlude. As a whole, Quantum Helix: Fractal Galaxy strikes me as a creative and imaginative epic, really a grand project that the artist put a lot of thought into.

For more info:

https://mnsrk.com/

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Magic Wands – Teenage Love

magicwands_teenagelove

This contemporary classic from over a decade ago remains one of my favorite tracks from Los Angeles based dreampop duo, Magic Wands. As far as I know, there are two versions of this jam: the original and then the one which actually appeared on the EP (Aloha Moon.) Both are incredible, but I prefer the original for some reason. It’s slightly more minimalist and haunting. It has more of that vintage cassette sound and slightly deeper bass…though that may just be my imagination. I love the lyrics of this song, especially the chorus (Our love is blue..all hearts are blue…) which really resonates with me and corresponds with my longstanding abstract identification with the color blue. This song really does capture the spirit of its subject matter, teenage romance, which is conveyed with strikingly accurate realism. Maybe it’s kind of pathetic that I still relate to these kinds of emotions and relationship dynamics as old as I am, but listening to this track will re-awaken the forsaken madness of youthful passions in listeners and lovers of any age.

For more info:

https://magicwandsband.com/

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Ben Arzate – The Story of the Y

storyofthey

When an obscure musician going by the name of “Y. Bhekhirst” released Hot in the Airport in 1986, perhaps he thought it might lead to fame and fortune. Indeed, though it may not have arrived in the form he expected, he has if nothing else, achieved a significant level of infamy from a moderately sized cult-like following of individuals, both amused and intrigued by his music. I suspect however, that he would not have predicted that the search to uncover his true identity would be the inspiration for a novel by Ben Arzate. The Story of the Y is that novel.

Maybe I’m low maintenance, but even just an earnest story about a researcher/reporter following a trail of clues through Mexico in a quest to solve the riddle of who “Y. Bhekhirst” really was would have been satisfying to me. The gritty and tedious work of going through files, questioning locals and piecing together evidence would have been interesting enough for me. As a hobby, I have been involved in the Zodiac killer research subculture for many years, so this sort of thing is right up my alley. For those of you who require something a little more tantanlizing, you’ll be relieved to know that Ben spices up the story with elements like brutal cartel violence and various supernatural phenomena. The basic gist of the plot is that an aspiring young reporter travels to Mexico with some friends (one of whom happens to be a ghost in a record) to locate and interview Y. Bhekhirst. I won’t spoil much of the rest for you, but let’s just say that when they arrive there, all hell breaks loose. The story had a somewhat Tarantino-esque feel to it, in that a group of characters starts off on a rather mundane quest and suddenly find themselves in a world of gruesome violence, torture and other freaky shit (along the lines as films like From Dusk Till Dawn.)

Ben Arzate has a very unpretentious writing style. He seems to have no use for the elaborately poetic, John Updike style prose when contextualizing scenes and describing settings. He narrates scenes in a very “matter of fact” way. I noticed this before when reading his book of short stories, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, but could not tell at the time if this was characteristic of his actual style or a gimmick which was unique to that particular collection. This deadpan, no-nonsense approach makes for a breezy read and keeps the action easy to understand at all times. Ben is also very consistent throughout the book. It has a very cohesive and slightly polished feel, unlike so many indie “novels” which convey interesting ideas but are haphazardly thrown together. The Story of the Y is just the right length. Many budding young writers for some reason feel compelled to write 400 page epics their first time out, but Arzate keeps this thing short and punchy. You could probably read the whole thing in just a couple of hours. I actually read it in the bathtub over the course of maybe 6 or 7, thirty minute hot baths (and managed to do so without significantly ruining the pages of the book.) One last thing I must note (SPOILER ALERT) is that Ben wisely avoids “selling out” on the ending, keeping things ambiguous in a way which will prevent the book from potentially seeming painfully dated at some point in the distant future. I don’t really have a final “verdict” on The Story of the Y. It just isn’t that sort of book. It’s a well written, low-key adventure novel that’s entertaining, intriguing and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

For his part, Ben has been slowly transforming from a prolific reviewer into a prolific writer of his own original (and growing) body of work. If he keeps cranking out material at this pace, I guarantee that everyone will be hearing a lot more about this guy.

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The Gleaming Crest

The_Gleaming_Crest_Adamson

Originally published in 1995, “The Gleaming Crest” was my first poetry chapbook (you can read more about it here.) Written while I was still in high school, this obscure literary gem from the 90’s deals with themes of adolescent angst, grandiose dreams, romance and coming of age. It’s only about 35 pages, but worth picking up a copy since it’s basically vintage at this point. The book is available from Amazon, but there are also quite a few copies floating around in locally owned book stores, record stores and random shops. It’s a great book to have sitting out on a coffee table if you want to get strange looks from guests who come over.

Purchase from Amazon

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The Blankz – Getting Over You

The Blankz - Getting Over You

The Blankz continue to crank out quality releases at an impressive rate. Their latest is Getting Over You a two track single, which also features a song called Barfly. One might expect a song called “Getting Over You” to be a dreary and sappy romantic number, but in fact this song is energetic and action packed. It does in fact deal with the theme of getting over heartbreak, but in an upbeat and triumphalist kind of way. The sound could be described as “pop punk,” but musically these songs are much more sophisticated. This band more or less has its own style which combines golden age punk authenticity with genres like new wave.Getting Over You features a killer organ/synth bridge about two-thirds into the song. What’s interesting intellectually about this track though is the way love is described in terms one would normally use to describe experiences with drugs. With lyrics such as “when your love was pumping through my veins and “once I had you in my brain” we get the sense that getting over this particular instance of love is the equivalent of finally making it out of the withdrawal phase of having to give up any kind of vice. The language is very clinical, thus further illustrating his growing detachment from the failed romance.

Barfly deals more with the creatures of the nightlife and their hunger to keep busy (“gotta find something to do!”) and find reprieve from the drab day to day and mundane punching of the clock. Even the term “punch the clock” evokes imagery associated with the most boring and soul crushing jobs…the ones where you can’t wait for the day to end so your actual life can begin.

Both of these songs are musically phenomenal and the production is excellent. The Blankz are quickly becoming one of the most prolific bands in Arizona. I’ve reviewed several of their releases now and have been impressed every time.

the_blankz_band

Available on Spotify:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1DXdJa941ExayM

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One Week 20 Years Ago

BARENAKED_LADIES_ONE_WEEK

[Fran and Stephen are observing from the roof of the mall]
Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?

Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
– Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Barenaked Ladies’ One Week was a popular, chart topping hit. I remember driving around Tempe in the fall of 1998 listening to The Edge 106.3 FM, and it seemed like this song was on the radio every 5 minutes…sometime between songs such as Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta and Third Eye Blind’s How’s It Gonna Be? These songs were heard many times on trips to and from Blockbuster Video (as well as Hollywood Video) to rent and return erotic thrillers, midnight outings to Denny’s, lonely drives to North Phoenix, my job at Abercrombie and all the rest.

One Week was one of those cheesy songs that I would have never admitted to liking but knew the words to and would secretly enjoy when it came on. It wasn’t passionately hated enough for me to like ironically, the way I later did with boy bands and Vitamin C, it was at least preferable to rapcore, a genre which I loathe to this day. In 1998, I would have complained about all the music on the radio sucking except the oldies station. This seems laughable in the context of today, when nearly every pop song is processed gibberish. In hindsight, we didn’t know how good we had it! One Week has the feel of a relic from a much more innocent and carefree era. It might as well be 100 years ago and a different country. The plethora of pop culture references in the lyrics are characteristic of Generation X works made at what Bret Easton Ellis refers to as the “height of the empire.”

Watchin X-Files with no lights on,
We’re dans la maison
I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one
Like Harrison Ford I’m getting Frantic
Like Sting I’m Tantric
Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy

I remember thinking these lyrics were so dumb, but not because I was opposed to the idea of cheesy pop culture references in songs. It’s just that the particular items referenced weren’t things that I personally was into. I did after all, write a song about Michael from Melrose Place. To revisit and paraphrase that memorable line from 1978′s Dawn of the Dead, such things had an important place in our lives.

I felt as though I owed it to Barenaked Ladies to write something about One Week, given how much enjoyment this jam gave me in 1998. 20 years later I can finally admit it.

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I Dreamed a World and Called It Love

I_dreamed_a_world_and_called_it_love

As I walked toward the museum entrance, my eyes were drawn to a giant red sculpture of what appeared to be a caged tyrannosaurus rex. I found it interesting because it seems like something you would see at the Science Center. It isn’t the kind of highbrow, avant-garde work one expects to see outside an art museum. I briefly entertained the idea of making that piece the focus of this article and avoiding the hefty admission fee ($18 with a student ID) altogether. Ultimately, I decided against it. The museum building itself is constructed in a mid-century modern architectural style, which is fairly common in the downtown Phoenix area and consistent with the age of the building.

The lobby of the museum is a loft-like, large open room with high ceilings. Immediately upon entering, one is greeted to the sight of a 3-D “snowflake” sculpture located near the center of the room. The walls of the hallway adjacent to the lobby are decorated with thousands of black paper butterflies. I’m not sure whether the appearance of the lobby shaped my experience in any significant way, but the open, echoey ambiance and imposing decor gave off the impression that some overwhelming works of art would be in store for my visit.

The galleries are laid out like themed rooms in a multi-level labyrinth maze. The pieces in each gallery tend to fit with the distinct style of each particular collection or exhibition. A gallery will usually feature works from a variety of artists within the particular movement which is being showcased or which the curator specializes in. For example, one of the exhibitions displayed prints by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, two iconic “pop” artists who worked together and were involved in a personal relationship with one another for a period of time. I think the galleries are presented this way to organize different styles and emphasize what is unique or distinctive in each of them. It also gives the visitor a more complete exposure and makes the exhibitions themselves seem more thorough. The maze-like floor plan allows the visitor to seemingly “get lost” in all the artwork. It gives guests the opportunity to peer around corners and discover new rooms filled with art, just when they thought they had seen everything the museum had to offer.

Since it was early in the afternoon on a weekday, guests were few and far between during my visit. If I had to guess I would say there were maybe thirty or forty visitors, sparsely spread out in the building. I did notice an elderly couple being chided by an employee for touching a large concrete art installation. I found this mildly amusing, imagining that the couple probably thought the art piece was simply a weirdly decorated bench for them to sit on.

For practical purposes, I had made up my mind ahead of time to select a work of art that was a representational painting that depicted some kind of elaborate scene. Regardless of whether I liked or disliked the piece at all, this would assure that I would have sufficient material to talk about for an entire article without having to resort to over-intellectualizing trivial observations or reaching for contrived meaning. Of course, once I arrived at the museum, that plan went completely out the window, and I ended up selecting a work that I was actually interested in and felt extremely drawn to.

My first impression of Jim Hodges’ I Dreamed a World and Called It Love was that it was shiny and made attractive use of color. From a distance it appeared to be a large, abstract painting which was created utilizing either metallic-colored acrylic paints or perhaps a collage made with colored translucent paper. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to have the consistency of colored tinfoil (is there even such a thing?) or cellophane. Upon reading the label, I discovered that most of my assumptions had been incorrect. The material used for this piece was actually stained glass that was cut and meticulously placed on a thick canvas (Lindsay). I was also grossly errant in assuming this was intended to be a “stand alone” work. It turns out that this is just a single panel in what was originally a larger and much more ambitious installation. The full installation apparently included 38 panels in total. It was exhibited at The Gladstone Gallery in 2016 (“I Dreamed a World and Called It Love”). The mistaken assumption that this was a stand-alone work was significant in this case. Unlike trivial observations like what kind of paint was used or whether the canvas was primed, this actually relates to the content of the work. If a visitor had been presented with the entire installation they might have come away with a completely different reading of the piece. Similarly, if an alternate single panel had been selected from a different section, one which featured a substantially different array of colors, this might provoke alternate interpretations of the overall mood or tone of the work. Some artists might even be annoyed at having their work partially displayed in this manner, but it seems that Jim Hodges has opted to be a good sport.

What’s most notable about this panel of I Dreamed a World and Called It Love is the usage of bright, vibrant color. The colors are not sharply divided but are intricately intertwined like crawling vines. There are solid primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and just about everything in between. Various shades of orange, red and maroon near the bottom give the area a volcanic presence. Turquoise blues, grayish whites and purple globs project an image of partially cloudy skies.

The lines are not rugged or chiseled in their appearance. They seem to flow and curve effortlessly to create soft, peaceful separations for the floating splotches of color. This phenomenon also gives the work a sense of motion, as though we’re visualizing the brain activity of someone in the middle of a dream. If we’re someday able to actually record dreams, I would imagine the earliest successful attempts to do so would produce an image like this (before the technology is perfected.) It’s as if someone freeze-framed a psychedelic animation film at one of the most visually pleasing points.

As I hinted at in my initial impressions, the texture here is shiny and metallic. It reminds me of sheet metal (even though it’s actually glass.) The piece is reflective but not with the same clarity as a mirror. In the museum lighting, reflections are visible, but appear distorted and difficult to make out. It’s similar to seeing one’s reflection in a car window or metal pole. There are also small bubbles visible, which are situated between the glass and the canvas. These bubbles are more likely to be a side effect of the process of attaching the glass to the canvas. I don’t believe they were consciously included as a creative choice. However, these bubbles inadvertently create a sense of physical depth to the work. They contribute to the sense of flotation and are consistent with the dreamlike ambiance of the piece. The bubbles create a liquid or aquatic texture for those fortunate enough to notice them.

I’m inclined to label this piece as non-representational rather than merely abstract. It doesn’t appear to depict any tangible object in the physical world. However, if one looks closely enough (and long enough) at the blobs of color, outlines vaguely resembling animals and human shapes in varying stages of motion can be spotted. I’m almost positive this is just a case of pareidolia though. One can drive themselves bonkers believing they’re seeing faces on Mars or the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast. At the end of the day, one doesn’t need to reach for things that aren’t there in order to recognize the impressive substance in what is plainly visible.

What this work means is anybody’s guess. Other than the title, the artist himself offers few clues. It’s worth noting though that the original gargantuan installation reflected color onto the floor (“I Dreamed a World and Called It Love”). This made the floor an additional part of the artwork. The plethora of different panels allowed visitors to see their reflections in different color combinations. On some level, maybe the artist was trying to help us empathize with all different types of people by having us view so many divergent images of ourselves. These reflections allow us to step into the shoes of others and perhaps into the art itself. Just as the light reflects onto the floor, it illuminates the visitor as well. We become part of the whole of the work.

Besides the fact that I found the color and composition of I Dreamed a World and Called It Love appealing, one of the main reasons I selected this work was that it seemed to stand out among the works by much more famous artists which were hanging nearby. This panel was located in a section of the museum which included paintings by icons like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. Though Jim Hodges may have received substantial critical acclaim over the years and has probably had an illustrious career, he is by no means a household name. The fact that his panel (which turned out to be only a component of the actual work) managed to outshine (literally in this case) the adjacently displayed artwork of legendary figures made me relate to him as a relative underdog. People will go to the museum specifically just to see Warhol’s soup cans, but maybe someday they will make the trip just so they can see this.

Works Cited:

“I Dreamed a World and Called It Love.” Gladstone Gallery, 2016,
www.gladstonegallery.com/exhibition/11992/installation-view#&panel1-1.
Lindsay, Taylor. “Dozens of Cut-Up Mirrors Get Rearranged into a Magnificent
Glass Room.” Creators, VICE, 29 Dec. 2016,
www.creators.vice.com/en_us/article/9anxy8/cut-up-mirrors-get-rearranged-into-magnificent-glass-room.

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XOXOXO – Fornicate

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XOXOXO was an early 2000s, Phoenix band that almost made it big during the Myspace era. They were fronted by an incredibly talented girl named Rachel Taylor, who tragically passed away about 10 years ago. I knew a girl that performed in a play Rachel wrote titled Sorbet and Other Stuff.The band was somewhat ahead of their time in that they were a polished, synth oriented and fashion conscious indie band at a time when most local indie rock was centered around guitars and Pabst Blue Ribbon. I always admired XOXOXO for aiming for something big. The band released one cd, which is pretty damn hard to find. XOXOXO even had a smear piece written about them in the Phoenix New Times, which is just further proof that they were awesome. XOXOXO disappeared for a while and reemerged with a new name, The Kohl Heart. I seem to recall that they lived in Oakland for a while as well. The members seemed to have a tendency to reinvent themselves just as they were beginning to achieve success. They are mostly forgotten …but not by me. Rachel Taylor RIP.

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Lyrics Of Two – Summer Song (Hey Hey)

lyricsoftwo_summersong

Summer Song (Hey Hey) is a refreshing and avant garde country pop song from Los Angeles based band, “Lyrics of Two.” The track was written by band founder Marie Helen Abramyan, a songwriter and poet whose work we’ve featured before. One thing Marie has become known for in her writing is an emphasis on seasons. Her poems and songs often capture the essence of a particular season, and its role in nature.

Like previous hits such as LFO’s Summer Girls, Lyrics of Two’s Summer Song (Hey Hey) manages to capture the “feel” of summer and deals with recapturing the carefree spirit of summer that’s been lost somewhere in the grind of day to day adult life. The incredibly catchy “Hey Hey!” hook of the chorus serves as a kind of wake up call for the soul. The song is upbeat from start to finish, conjuring up images of frolicking on the beach with friends and throwing frisbees around. It is upbeat in a way that only the season of summer could be, with the feelings associated with the adjacent seasons both left behind and waiting subtly for their turn, temporarily relegated to the margins.

For more info:

Website: http://www.lyricsoftwo.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lyricsoftwo
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lyricsoftwo
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/3jFct5ZCv2NEzXhJxEywmp?si=YfppmaXCTEqdP5t6C0hZzA

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